Twenty-Six Years Later: A Look at a Modern Christmas Classic

Elizabeth Dale

Picture it: the fall of 1994, a pager on your hip, you might be discussing the latest box office blockbuster, Forrest Gump, or perhaps the newest NBC comedy Friends. You've heard rumors about two new startups, Yahoo and Amazon, all while being dressed from head to toe in crushed velvet. Life is good. and when you think you’ve hit your peak, you turn your radio dial, and the magical notes of Mariah Carey’s newest single appear, an upbeat Christmas bop, “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Flash forward: the world around you is different, not a pager in sight, Amazon sells a lot more than books, Friends has come and gone, and luckily crushed velvet is a thing of the distant past. However, one thing remains constant: i'ts fall, it’s here, and whether you like it or not – “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is being piped over every PA system in existence, sweeping across social media, and in the background to a whole new crop of television commercials. How can it be that so much has changed, yet this holiday song is ever-present over two decades later?

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” was co-written and co-produced by GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Walter Afanasieff (formerly Baby Love) alongside Carey. Afanasieff’s credits also include other iconic songs like Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and multiple Disney recordings. The majority of his career has been alongside Carey, providing a pivotal role in some of her most iconic recordings. "All I Want For Christmas Is You" appears on the album Merry Christmas,” released on Columbia Records on October 28, 1994, and was recorded at The Hit Factory in New York City. The famed studio was founded by songwriter and producer Jerry Ragovoy in 1968 and sold in 1975 to Edward Germano. The Hit Factory became the recording/mixing site for such iconic albums like Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Paul Simon’s Graceland, and The Rolling Stones’ Undercover.

With talent surrounding the single, it is easy to see how it became one of the top 20 best-selling singles of all time. Some notable facts about the track include:

  • The song has been covered over 50 times (56 and counting) with the most recent reported in 2018 by Ingrid Michaelson.
  • It was remixed three times in 2000, 2009, and 2010.
  • The track is the 11th best-selling single of all time (“White Christmas” is the first at over 50 million copies).
  • There are four music videos, with the original having more than 633 million YouTube views.
  • Carey released a children's book and an animated film based on the song and indicated a feature film is perhaps in the works.
  • Experts credit commercial success to song structure (AABA), similar to popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s, including other Christmas classics “Frosty the Snowman,” “White Christmas,” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
  • Carey reportedly tried to mirror Phil Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound” effect.
  • Twenty-five years after its release, the song broke records by being the most streamed (female) song on Spotify within 24 hours with 12.029 million streams.
  • It hit No. 1 in the Billboard 100 for the first time in 2000 and made Carey the only artist to top charts spanning four decades (the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s).
  • The Recording Industry Association of America certified the track as six times platinum and the ringtone at two times platinum.
  • The single can be heard in film and television appearing in popular programs like Love Actually, Daddy’s Home 2, Sesame Street: Elmo Saves Christmas, and Glee.

Like it or not, the song has dominated popular culture over the last quarter of a century with no signs of relinquishing its hold on the global holiday market. The science behind the phenomenon has been covered by everyone from Time magazine, CNN, BBC, New York Times, NBC News, and NPR. Whether it is the bane of your existence or the motivation you need to make it through the holiday season, “All I Want For Christmas” will continue to come out of hibernation each fall to conquer the airwaves.